Congressional Advocacy Conference
By James Deom, PCO Trustee; AOSA/AOA-PAC Liaison
Where were you this past April 1st-3rd? Well over 300 of your student colleagues were in Washington, DC for the Annual American Optometric Association Congressional Advocacy Conference. If this conference is something that is new to you, then here is the 411.
Congressional Advocacy Conference at a Glance:
Each year ODs and AOSA trustees as well as a growing number of students descend on the capital to address national legislative priorities for our profession with their respective legislators and to get an overview of the national political climate. ODs and students are given an invaluable crash course on the art of lobbying their legislators and brought up to speed on the goings-on within Washington.
This was an historic year for several reasons...
- A record number of students were in attendance this year: over 300 students, which is more than double last year's attendance !
- Each year the AOA-PAC sets a goal for student support that is never reached. This year we not only reached it, we smashed it to pieces. Students this year dug into their already empty pockets and supported Optometry-friendly Legislators with an astonishing dollar amount of OVER $16,000 (more than double what has ever been contributed by students... EVER).
This year's legislative priorities were and continue to be:
- H.R 1195/ S 2192: Inclusion of Optometry Grads for Loan repayment in the NHSC- NHSC IMPROVEMENT ACT
- H.R. 1219: Support Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act
I was able to personally meet with four legislative assistants for Congressmen from Pennsylvania. Some were already co-sponsors and all we did was further strengthen our relationship with the legislator's staff while providing them with all the info on what it is that we as the primary eye care providers do for their constituents. The remaining visits were really why wewere there: to get more co-sponsors. The legislative assistants were truly engaged in what we had to say about the important access to care issues that optometrists throughout the country solve. We spoke very simply about how important it is for yearly eye examinations by ODs in relation to preventative health care and the positive ramifications that could have on the state of health care throughout the country. Overall, we served as stewards for our profession-to enlighten and educate those who decide what we are legally able to do for our patients on what we are actually trained and educated to do for our patients. Many legislators are unaware of our rigorous training and scope of practice. Many are also unaware of the difference between the eye care professionals and the important role we play in the delivery of primary eye care.
Last year I had the opportunity to attend this conference and knew immediately that it would affect my career for the rest of my life. I knew that it was something that I wanted to commit my efforts to for the rest of my career. I was blessed to be given the opportunity to help others experience the very same involvement this past year as the AOSA-PAC National Liaison and I made it my goal to get as many students to the meeting as possible. Well guys, we did it!
I want to thank all the AOSA Trustees at all the schools and also the AOSA Local Liaison AOA-PAC Reps at all of the schools who rallied the students at your individual schools and reached deep into your own pockets to support PAC and to fund your own way to Washington, D.C.
WE MUST NOT STOP NOW! As students we have set an impressive goal for next year. And I do not doubt that you will all spread your experience at this year's meeting to your fellow students and the number of students next year will overshadow this year's. The more students and ODs we have on Capitol Hill, the louder our voice will be. The louder the voice, the more the message is heard-we must be heard or we will be left out of the new healthcare debate. It is an historic time in the political climate and we MUST be in the conversation or what so many who have come before us have fought for could effectively be gone. I encourage each and every one of you to support AOA-PAC, and attend Optometry's Meeting® this year in Chicago to get more information about legislative action and donate to the AOA-PAC at their kiosk in the Exhibit Hall. If you've already donated and attended the Advocacy Conference, stop by the kiosk and let them know about how great your experience was! One thing that was solidified in Washington this past April is that your student voice is a valuable one; LET IT BE HEARD!